Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"The film immerses us in the life of the city."

The city of Medellín, when we first see it, looks like something out of a fairy tale, a secret valley flooded with light. High up in the Andes and surrounded by lofty peaks, it’s an incredible place to look down at – but, as filmmaker and narrator Theo Montoya explains, when you live it it, you can’t see the horizon. At times the clouds which linger round the mountaintops slide across the valley and seal it off like the lid of a pressure cooker.

Blending documentary and fiction (it is described at one point as a trans film, and not just because some of its subjects blur gender boundaries), Anhell69 unfolds as a story told to us by a young man (Montoya) in a coffin. It looks back at his life and his efforts to make his first film, incorporating footage of the teenagers and twentysomethings who worked on it with him, many of whom are now dead. He fell in love with cinema, he tells us, as it was the only place where he could cry. Peace officially came to Medellín in 2016, but that didn’t make it safe. Drugs, suicide, homophobia and transphobia, street violence and domestic violence continued to claim young lives.

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The film he had been trying to make was, he says, a b-movie ghost story set in a dystopian version of the city, though it’s hard to imagine what would be so different about that. He describes it as a tribute to all the filmmakers who inspired him, and viewers will smile at the sight of a proud cockerel wandering though a scene full of bloody corpses. In this film, ghosts live alongside the living, leading to the discovery of a new forms of sexual attraction, spectrophilia, and, consequently, a new, aggressively enforced taboo. It would never be completed, however, as too many members of the cast and crew would become ghosts themselves.

The footage in which they introduce themselves is simple, shot in an otherwise empty room with a scattering of plastic chairs, letting us focus on how they present themselves and what they have to say. Elsewhere, the film immerses us in the life of the city. We see logos stuck to a window: Nike, Coca-Cola, Adidas, the US, Jesus Christ. Young people in a punk club discuss their longing for foreign sugar daddies, their willingness to risk pretty much anything just to get out. Beautiful aerial footage gives us glimpses of the big houses on the hillsides where the risk people live, the tall towers where they work, a totally different experience of life there. Pink clouds roll across a thin blue sky whilst down below train tracks and lines of traffic mark out city blocks, rows of decaying houses, the ruins where the names of the dead are etched onto the walls.

Few of those interviewed imagine much of a future. One says outright that he’ll probably be dead in a few years. There is only the present. Art, film, fashion. Love, for what it’s worth, and Montoya’s effort to capture lives in digital form before they are lost. Moments of defiant beauty reaching out to the unseen.

Anhell69 screened as part of Newfest.

Reviewed on: 14 Oct 2023
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A funeral car cruises the streets of Medellin, while a young director tells the story of his past in this violent and conservative city.

Director: Theo Montoya

Writer: Theo Montoya

Starring: Camilo Najar, Sergio Pérez, Juan Pérez, Alejandro Hincapié, Julian David Moncada, Camilo Machado, Víctor Gaviria, Alejandro Mendigana

Year: 2022

Runtime: 75 minutes

Country: Colombia, Romania, France, Germany

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